It’s no secret that the transition from war to civilian life is not easy for service members or their families. Add mental illness, and the already difficult experience can become a debilitating one. Unfortunately, this situation is very common.
A 2014 study showed that nearly one out of four active duty service members showed signs of a mental health condition. Another study in 2008 found that about 20% of returning service members from Iraq or Afghanistan report experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) or depression.
Family members often feel in the dark about what is happening with their loved one, especially as war can be so hard to talk about. They may feel scared, isolated or hopeless. They may be unsure of how to help their loved one get better. This is why NAMI created NAMI Homefront: a free six-session program that addresses the unique needs of those closest to military service members and veterans.
Since the program launched in 2014, over 2,500 individuals have enrolled. This month, a study published in Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association, confirmed that NAMI Homefront is associated with significant benefits for participants.
Why Is This Important?
NAMI Homefront teaches individuals everything from learning to manage stress, to staying informed on the latest research, to handling a crisis. The study found that the program was associated with major benefits, including improvements in:
- Psychological distress
- Family functioning
- Experience of caregiving
- Knowledge of mental illness
This sort of progress means that family members, caregivers and friends all can support their loved one with compassion and hope. We can agree that those who serve our country deserve this kind of help and support—and NAMI is here to help facilitate that.
The class also helps normalize individuals’ experiences, making them feel less alone in their journey. The group atmosphere, both in-person and online, can be validating and liberating for families and friends of service members. And that shows growth not only for these individuals, but also for the military community at large. The more people talk about mental illness in the military community, the more we can reduce stigma and encourage more service members to get help.
We hope that this research can further support work like NAMI Homefront. Our service members and their families, caregivers and friends deserve no less.
Dr. Lisa Dixon is Professor of Psychiatry at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. She worked with NAMI to do research on the original NAMI Family to Family program.
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